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Free school site has ‘credible’ explosives threat



A free school says it is expecting to move “in the coming autumn” to a permanent site by an airport runway – despite an asbestos issue and a credible threat from unexploded Second World War mines.

The Education Funding Agency (EFA) bought the former national air traffic control training centre next to Bournemouth airport at Hurn as a home for Parkfield School after attempts to find a location in central Bournemouth were plagued by planning difficulties.

But a study seen by Schools Week shows that the eight-acre site was part of former RAF Hurn from 1941. The airport was a bomb target during the war, with pipemines containing explosives laid on the airfield as a deterrent to German troops.

The report was released by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) earlier this month after a member of the public requested “all known environmental information” concerning the site.

Commissioned by the National Air Traffic Services (NATS), the former owners of the Parkfield site, the report states that the pipemines were “not removed and reported to be free of explosive”. The Ministry of Defence did not provide a clearance certificate for the airfield.

Work is currently underway at the site to remove asbestos from the existing buildings. Specialist contractors have been appointed to carry out the work. Schools Week understands some of the buildings will then be demolished, the remaining ones refurbished and provided in phases over the coming year.

But the study carried out for NATS in 2011 identified a “credible unexploded ordnance (UXO) threat to intrusive engineering works”. It said the “current risk level is considered to be medium to high and warrants a robust UXO mitigation strategy to be executed to permit the work to proceed in the safest acceptable manner”.

Schools Week understands from an independent expert that if the findings of the report are valid, there would be a possibility UXOs would remain if the site was not fully cleared.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “An up-to-date expert risk assessment states that this site is as safe as any other in the South of England.”

This up-to-date assessment was not released by the Education Funding Agency.

Parkfield School’s website includes a statement from head Terry Conaghan saying the plan is to move to the new site in September.

Renovation and building work got underway this month. The head said he wanted to “reassure everyone that there will be no dangerous asbestos on the site when the school is in occupation”.

The school opened to pupils in September 2013 in temporary accommodation in a former office block in Bournemouth town centre.

Mr Conaghan said on the website that despite the new site being close to the airport, the noise and pollution levels “are lower than in our current location on Christchurch Road”.

Last July the school was predicting around 600 pupils from reception to Year 11 by September 2015, all arriving at the airport site at peak hours. Parents have also raised concerns about a lack of public transport to the site, which is six miles from the centre of Bournemouth.

A spokesperson for the airport said: “We have expressed our concerns with the operator of the proposed school and will continue that dialogue throughout the entire process. As it is still an ongoing situation we would not comment on these publicly.”

Schools Week asked Parkfield School if it had a contingency plan should the site not be ready in September.

Operations manager Sam Hanson was unable to provide detailed answers, as the school was involved in an Ofsted inspection this week but she confirmed that a move to the new premises was scheduled for “this coming autumn”.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We take all appropriate steps to ensure that every site for a school is as safe as possible. The application process is very comprehensive and all proposals are rigorously assessed before they are approved.”



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3 Comments

  1. stuart shearing

    I have to admit to an interest here – my son attends Parkfield.

    In the expectation of negativity around any group pulling together to do something a bit different, I regularly search online for article’s about the school.

    This however, is almost Pythonesque – and certainly beyond satire.

    Schools Week has not named the independent expert. Given the tone and journalistic quality of this article though, I wouldn’t be surprised if Katie Hopkins or Piers Morgan were chipping in with a bit of independent advice and support.

    May I point out a single truth:

    There have been no casualties in the UK caused by unexploded ordnance since 1956.

    I have sourced this from another headline grabbing article from last weeks Daily Telegraph, entitled, “Do you have a second world war bomb in your back garden and what to do about it”.

    This article is a bloody joke.

    Please, please, can we focus on reality and the fantastic job that all of the staff and supporters of Parkfield have done in the last couple of years, under extremely trying circumstances and with zero goodwill.

    Ann, I am sure that the staff and pupils of Parkfield would welcome you with open arms should you care to visit and find out what the school is all about.

    Stuart Shearing

    • Natalie

      Stuart,

      Thank you so much for this post. I have a daughter, that will join Parkfield from September 2015 and we’re very excited at the prospect of this.

      I totally agree with your comments above and unfortunately find that naysayers are not restricted to this forum.

      However, I do believe that our insight and fortitude to move our children here will see them as the envy of many and in the long run are the lucky ones.

      Regards,
      Natalie

  2. David Gee

    This article is very silly, it is not as if the information was hiding. When the planning application was submitted for the school, there was a Site Investigation Report prepared by Southern Testing submitted as part of that application. This report included an appendix from MACC International which was an Unexploded Ordnance Report. This is a public document and can be viewed On Christchurch District Council’s website under the planning application reference 8/15/0250 – go to their search page at:

    http://planning.christchurchandeastdorset.gov.uk/search.aspx

    Enter that reference, then click on the ‘view documents’ tab and open up the document called “site investigation_LR_Part1.pdf (3830kb)”

    Whilst I may not agree with the school being located on this site and consider that there were more approrpriate airport related uses that could have used the site, the article is very poorly researched and tabloid in its nature.